By: Dr. Tyler Fortman
Chicago can be a tough place to survive, succeed, and thrive professionally. It’s not only the third largest city in the country, it’s also home to companies like Boeing, United Airlines, McDonald’s, and Walgreens.
The pace is fast and the expectations high. It’s quite common for Chicagoans to feel some level of job stress; but, the chronic experience of job related stress can lead to burnout.
So, are we all just screwed? In addition to environmental factors, personal factors are also a major contributor to burnout. In his declarative book on the topic, Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement, Dr. Freudenberger defines burnout by saying it is, “To deplete oneself. To exhaust one’s physical and mental resources.
To wear oneself out by excessively striving to reach some unrealistic expectation imposed by one’s self or by the values of society.” (Notably, many books have followed suit with Dr. Freudenberger’s initial definition.) Notice the emphasis on the individual?
People who hold unrealistic expectations (especially expectations of perfection or idealism), over identify with their career, or have single-minded goal pursuits with limited other interests are especially prone to burnout. There is a reason Dr. Freudenberger calls it the “super-achiever sickness.”
Burnout begins with high ideals and expectations (both internally and externally imposed) – a musician who is going to be the next legend, a teacher who is going to inspire every student, or a nurse who is going to save every life.
These ideals lead to extraordinary efforts to be successful. When these efforts come to fruition and the efforts are reinforced (e.g., a musician receives a standing ovation, an inspired student thanks their teacher, or a nurse saves a life, etc.), all is well.
However, if the effort doesn’t result in the expected outcome, people prone to burnout increase their efforts. If the expected “success” is still not achieved, the person is likely to move through the stages of burnout.
Stage I (initially): fatigue, decreased performance, stress
Stage I (later): exhaustion, frustration, disillusionment
Stage II: denial, impaired judgment, blaming others, defensiveness, apathy, cynicism, depression
Stage III: disorientation, despair, disengagement, distancing, dullness
Take a moment and consider if you’re experiencing burnout at any stage. If so, or if you are prone to it, consider these 3 action steps:
1 Exercise Balance – Make sure your life is balanced. Burnout is far less likely if you have important relationships, a focus on physical wellness, and hobbies in your life. Take a look at your schedule. Do you have adequate time for pursuits that aren’t career oriented? Try a week in which you schedule at least one alternative activity (e.g., a date, meditation, yoga class, dinner with friends, a call to your family, etc.)
2 Monitor Your Energy Level – fatigue and, later, exhaustion are initial signs of burnout. Make sure that you are getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising regularly. Check-in with yourself often. How energetic do you feel? Rate your energy level on a scale of 1-10 for a week.
3 Maintain Realistic Expectations – You are probably extremely talented and driven. You have probably studied at the best schools and mastered more than your peers. Still, not everything will work out all of the time. It’s crucial to check your expectations. Are they idealistic? Do they leave room for error? Do they leave room for environmental influences? How do you handle disappointments?
If you don’t succeed, do you turn it up a notch and enact and almost desperate need to reach your goal? If you are having trouble understanding why you are experiencing extreme expectations of yourself or having difficulty changing it, consider counseling.